Read High Five Online

Authors: Janet Evanovich

High Five (5 page)

BOOK: High Five
13.44Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

It wasn't hard to spot Axel Black. He was sitting on a bench, lost in thought, with his dog at his side. The dog was a small mutt type, sitting there, eyes glazed, looking a lot like Axel. The difference was that Axel had glasses and the dog had hair.

I parked the car and approached the two. Neither moved, even when I was standing directly in front of them.

“Axel Black?” I asked.

He looked up at me. “Yes?”

I introduced myself and gave him my card. “I'm looking for Fred Shutz,” I said. “And I've been talking to some of the seniors who might have known Fred.”

“Bet they've been giving you an earful,” Axel said. “Old Fred was a real character. Cheapest man who ever walked the earth. Argued over every nickel. Never contributed to anything. And he thought he was a Romeo, too. Always cozying up to some woman.”

“Doesn't sound like you thought much of him.”

“Had no use for the man,” Axel said. “Don't wish him any harm, but don't like him much either. The truth is, he was shifty.”

“You have any idea what happened to him?”

“Think he might have paid too much attention to the wrong woman.”

I couldn't help thinking maybe he was talking about Winnie as being the wrong woman. And maybe he ran Fred over with his Chrysler, picked him up, shoved him in the trunk, and dumped him into the river.

That didn't explain the photographs, but maybe the photographs had nothing to do with Fred's disappearance.

“Well,” I said, “if you think of anything, let me know.”

“You bet,” Axel said.

Fred's sons, Ronald and Walter, were next on my list. Ronald was the line foreman at the pork roll factory. Walter and his wife, Jean, owned a convenience store on Howard Street. I thought it wouldn't hurt to talk to Walter and Ronald. Mostly because when my mother asked me what I was doing to find Uncle Fred I needed to have something to say.

Walter and Jean had named their store the One-Stop. It was across the street from a twenty-four-hour supermarket and would have been driven out of business long ago were it not for the fact that in one stop customers could purchase a loaf of bread, play the numbers, and put down twenty dollars on some nag racing at Freehold.

Walter was behind the register reading the paper when I walked into the store. It was early afternoon, and the store was empty. Walter put the paper down and got to his feet. “Did you find him?”

“No. Sorry.”

He took a deep breath. “Jesus. I thought you were coming to tell me he was dead.”

“Do you think he's dead?”

“I don't know what I think. In the beginning I figured he just wandered off. Had another stroke or something. But now I can't figure it. None of it makes sense.”

“Do you know anything about Fred having problems with his garbage company?”

“Dad had problems with everyone,” Walter said.

I said good-bye to Walter, fired up the Buick, and drove across town to the pork roll factory. I parked in a visitor slot, went inside, and asked the woman at the front desk to pass a note through to Ronald.

Ronald came out a few minutes later. “I guess this is about Dad,” he said. “Nice of you to help us look for him. I can't believe he hasn't turned up by now.”

“Do you have any theories?”

“None I'd want to say out loud.”

“The women in his life?”

Ronald shook his head. “He was a pip. Cheap as they come and could never keep his pecker in his pants. I don't know if he can still fire up the old engine, but he's still running around. Christ, he's seventy-two years old.”

“Do you know anything about a disagreement with the garbage company?”

“No, but he's had a year-long feud with his insurance company.”

 

THREE

 

I
LEFT THE
pork roll factory's parking lot and headed across town. It was almost five and government workers were clogging the roads. That was one of the many good things about Trenton. If you needed to practice Italian hand signals, there was no shortage of deserving bureaucrats.

I made a fast stop back at my apartment for some last-minute beautifying. I added an extra layer of mascara, fluffed my hair, and headed out.

Morelli was at the bar when I got to Pino's. He had his back to me, and he was lost in thought, elbows on the bar, head bent over his beer. He wore jeans and running shoes and a green plaid flannel shirt unbuttoned over a Gold's Gym T-shirt. A woman at the opposite end of the bar was watching him in the behind-the-bar mirror. Women did that now. They watched and wondered. When he was younger and his features were softer, women did more than watch. When he was younger, mothers statewide warned their daughters about Joe Morelli. And when he was younger, daughters statewide didn't give a darn what their mothers told them. Morelli's features were more angular these days.

His eyes were less inviting to strangers. Women included. So women watched and wondered what it would be like to be with Morelli.

I knew, of course, what it was like to be with Morelli. Morelli was magic.

I took the stool next to him and waved a “beer, please” signal to the bartender.

Morelli gave me an appraising look, his eyes dilated black in the dim bar light. “Business suit and heels,” he said. “That means you've either been to a wake, a job interview, or you tried to trick some nice old lady out of information she shouldn't be giving you.”

“Door number three.”

“Let me guess . . . this has to do with your uncle Fred.”

“Bingo.”

“Having any luck?”

“Hard to say. Did you know Fred fooled around? He had a girlfriend.”

Morelli grinned. “Fred Shutz? Hell, that's encouraging.”

I rolled my eyes.

He took our beer glasses off the bar and motioned to the area set aside for tables. “If I was Mabel I'd be happy Fred was going elsewhere,” he said. “I don't think Fred looks like a lot of fun.”

“Especially since he collects pictures of dismembered bodies.”

“I gave the pictures to Arnie. He didn't look happy. I think he was hoping Fred would turn up hitching a ride down Klockner Boulevard.”

“Is Arnie going to do anything on this?”

“He'll probably go back and talk to Mabel some more. Run the photos through the system to see what comes up.”

“Did you already run them through?”

“Yeah. And I didn't get anything.”

There was nothing fancy about Pino's. At certain times of the day the bar was filled with cops unwinding after their shift. And at other times of the day the tables set aside for diners were filled with hungry Burg families. In between those times, Pino's was home to a few regular drunks, and the kitchen was taken over by cockroaches as big as barn cats. I ate at Pino's in spite of the roach rumor because Anthony Pino made the best pizza in Trenton. Maybe in all of Jersey.

Morelli gave his order and tipped back in his chair. “How friendly are you feeling toward me?”

“What'd you have in mind?”

“A date.”

“I thought
this
was a date.”

“No. This is dinner, so I can ask you about the date.”

I sipped at my beer. “Must be some date.”

“It's a wedding.”

I sat up straighter in my chair. “It isn't
my
wedding, is it?”

“Not unless there's something going on in your life that I don't know about.”

I blew out a sigh of relief. “Wow. For a minute there I was worried.”

Morelli looked annoyed. “You mean if I asked you to marry me, that's the reaction I'd get?”

“Well, yeah.”

“I thought you wanted to get married. I thought that was why we stopped sleeping together. . . because you didn't want sex without marriage.”

I leaned forward on the table and cocked a single eyebrow at him. “Do you want to get married?”

“No, I don't want to get married. We've been all through this.”

“Then my reaction doesn't matter, does it?”

“Jesus,” Morelli said. “I need another beer.”

“So what's with the wedding?”

“My cousin Julie's getting married on Saturday, and I need a date.”

“You're giving me four days' notice to go to a wedding? I can't be ready for a wedding in four days. I need a new dress and shoes. I need a beauty parlor appointment. How am I going to do all this with four days' notice?”

“Okay, fuck it, we won't go,” Morelli said.

“I guess I could do without the beauty parlor, but I definitely need new shoes.”

“Heels,” Morelli said. “High and spiky.”

I fiddled with my beer glass. “I wasn't your last choice, was I?”

“You're my only choice. If my mother hadn't called this morning I wouldn't have remembered the wedding at all. This case I'm on is getting to me.”

“Want to talk about it?”

“That's the last thing I want to do.”

“How about Uncle Fred, want to talk about him some more?”

“The playboy.”

“Yeah. I don't understand how he could just disappear.”

“People disappear all the time,” Morelli said. “They get on a bus and start life over. Or they jump off a bridge and float out with the tide. Sometimes people help them disappear.”

“This is a man in his seventies who was too cheap to buy a bus ticket and would have had to walk miles to find a bridge. He left his cleaning in the car. He disappeared in the middle of running errands.”

We both momentarily fell silent while our pizza was placed on the table.

“He'd just come from the bank,” Morelli said when we were alone. “He was an old man. An easy mark. Someone could have driven up to him and forced him into their car.”

'there were no signs of struggle.”

“That doesn't mean one didn't take place.”

I chewed on that while I ate my pizza. I'd had the same thought, and I didn't like it.

I told Morelli about my conversation with Winnie Black.

“She know anything about the pictures?”

“No.”

“One other thing,” Morelli said. “I wanted to tell you about Benito Ramirez.”

I looked up from the pizza. Benito Ramirez was a heavyweight professional boxer from Trenton. He liked to punish people and didn't limit the punishing to inside the ring. He liked to beat up on women. Liked to hear them beg while he inflicted his own brand of sick torture. And in fact, I knew some of that torture had ended in death, but there'd always been camp followers who'd gotten posthumous credit for the worst of Ramirez's crimes. He'd been involved in my very first case as a bounty hunter, and I'd been instrumental in putting him behind bars. His incarceration hadn't come soon enough for Lula. Ramirez had almost killed her. He'd raped her and beat her and cut her in terrible places. And then he'd left her naked, bloody body on my fire escape for me to find.

“What about Ramirez?” I asked Morelli.

“He's out.”

“Out where?”

“Out of jail.”

“What?
What do you mean, he's out of jail? He almost killed Lula. And he was involved in a whole bunch of other murders.” Not to mention that he'd stalked and terrorized
me.

“He's released on parole, doing community service, and getting psychiatric counseling.” Morelli paused to pull off another piece of pizza. “He had a real good lawyer.”

Morelli had said this very matter of fact, but I knew he didn't feel matter of fact. He'd put on his cop face. The one that shut out emotion. The one with the hard eyes that gave nothing away.

I made a display of eating. Like I wasn't too bothered by this news either. When in fact, nausea was rolling through my stomach. “When did this happen?” I asked Morelli.

“Yesterday.”

“And he's in town?”

“Just like always. Working out in the gym on Stark.”

A big man, Mrs. Bestler had said. African-American. Polite. Prowling in my hall. Sweet Jesus, it might have been Ramirez.

“If you even
suspect
he's anywhere near you, I want to know,” Morelli said.

I'd shoved another piece of pizza into my mouth, but I was having a hard time swallowing. “Sure.”

We finished the pizza and dawdled over coffee.

“Maybe you should spend the night with me,” Morelli said. “Just in case Ramirez decides to look you up.”

I knew Morelli had other things in mind beyond my safety. And it was a tempting offer. But I'd already taken that bus, and it seemed like a ride that went nowhere. “Can't,” I said. “I'm working tonight.”

“I thought things were slow.”

“This isn't for Vinnie. This is for Ranger.”

Morelli did a little grimace. “I'm afraid to ask.”

“It's nothing illegal. It's a security job.”

“It always is,” Morelli said. “Ranger does all kinds of security. Ranger keeps small Third World countries secure.”

“This has nothing to do with gunrunning. This is legitimate. We're doing front-door security for an apartment building on Sloane.”

“Sloane? Are you crazy? Sloane's at the edge of the war zone.”

“That's why the building needs policing.”

“Fine. Let Ranger get someone else. Trust me, you don't want to be out looking for a parking place on Sloane in the middle of the night.”

“I won't have to look for a parking place. Tank's picking me up.

“You're working with a guy named Tank?”

“He's big.”

“Jesus,” Morelli said. “I had to fall in love with a woman who works with a guy named Tank.”

“You love me?”

“Of course I love you. I just don't want to marry you.”

I
STEPPED OUT
of the elevator and saw him sitting on the floor in the hall, next to my door. And I knew he was Mabel's visitor. I stuck my hand in my shoulder bag, searching for my pepper spray. Just in case. I rooted around in the bag for a minute or two, finding lipsticks and hair rollers and my stun gun, but no pepper spray.

“Either you're searching for your keys or your pepper spray,” the guy said, getting to his feet. “So let me help you out, here.” He reached into his pocket, pulled out a canister of pepper spray, and tossed it to me. “Be my guest,” he said. And then he pushed my door open.

“How'd you do that? My door was locked.”

“God-given talent,” he said. “I thought it would save time if I searched your apartment before you got home.”

I shook the spray to make sure it was live.

“Hey, don't get all bent out of shape,” he said. “I didn't wreck anything. Although, I have to tell you, I did have fun in your panty drawer.”

Instinct said he was playing with me. There was no doubt in my mind he'd gone through my apartment, but I doubted he lingered with my lingerie. Truth is, I didn't have a lot and what I had wasn't especially exotic. I felt violated all the same, and I would have sprayed him on the spot, but I didn't trust the spray in my hand. It was his, after all.

He rocked back on his heels. “Well, aren't you going to ask me in? Don't you want to know my name? Don't you want to know why I'm here?”

“Talk to me.”

“Not here,” he said. “I want to go in and sit down. I've had a long day.”

“Forget it. Talk to me here.”

“I don't think so. I want to go inside. It's more civilized. It would be like we were friends.”

“We're not friends. And if you don't talk to me right now, I'm going to gas you.”

He was about my height, five-foot-seven, and built like a fireplug. It was hard to tell his age. Maybe late thirties. His brown hair was receding. His eyebrows looked like they'd been fed steroids. He was wearing ratty running shoes, black Levi's, and a dark gray sweatshirt.

He gave a big sigh and hauled a .38 out from under the sweatshirt. “Using the pepper spray wouldn't be a good idea,” he said, “because then I'd have to shoot you.”

My stomach dropped an inch and my heart started banging in my chest. I thought about the pictures and how someone had gotten themselves killed and mutilated. Fred had gotten involved somehow. And now I was involved, too. And there was a reasonable chance that I was being held at gunpoint by a guy who was on a first-name basis with the photographed garbage bag.

“If you shoot me in the hall, my neighbors will be all over you,” I said.

“Fine. Then I'll shoot them, too.”

I didn't like the idea of him shooting someone, especially me, so we both went into my apartment.

“This is much better,” he said, heading for the kitchen, opening the refrigerator and getting a beer.

“Where'd that beer come from?”

“It came from me. Where do you think, the beer fairy? Lady, you need to go food shopping. It's unhealthy to live like this.”

“Who
are
you?”

He shoved the gun under his waistband and stuck his hand out. “I'm Bunchy.”

“What kind of a name is Bunchy?”

“When I was a kid I had this underwear problem.”

Ugh. “You have a real name?”

“Yeah, but you don't need to know it. Everybody calls me Bunchy.”

I was feeling better now that the gun wasn't pointed at me. Feeling good enough to be curious. “So what's this business deal with Fred?”

“Well, the truth is, Fred owes me some money.”

“Uh-huh.”

“And I want it.”

“Good luck.”

He chugged half a bottle of beer. “Now, see, that's not a good attitude.”

“How did Fred come to owe you money?”

BOOK: High Five
13.44Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

Vapor by David Meyer
Electric by Stokes, Tawny
Stockholm Seduction by Lily Harlem
Red Cell Seven by Stephen Frey
03 Underwater Adventure by Willard Price
Tanza by Amanda Greenslade
Owning Corey by Maris Black
Kindred by Nicola Claire